Procedures for examining routine deaths may have led to mistakes
Archive: 04 October 1993
The small mortuary at Barnet General Hospital was, for more than 20 years, one of the busiest in north London. About 500 coroner’s autopsies were performed there annually. For most of the time, Ivan Biddle was the resident technician.
It was a lonely, poorly-paid job. At the most he earnt pounds 11,500. He had been a porter originally and spent the first years in the mortuary without qualifications of any kind. But, unusually, he later acquired diplomas in hygiene and mortuary skills.
Many other mortuary workers had only a primary education and some had trouble reading; most were like him, former hospital porters, or night watchmen. When Mr Biddle went on holiday, one of the Barnet porters stood in for him – in some cases opening up bodies.
Mr Biddle’s main business was with the coroner. Most of the cases were routine: road accidents and suicides. In murder cases a Home Office pathologist would supervise. This was the legal procedure: the pathologist present from start to finish.